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Steelers LB Spence to resume practicing

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Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Dr. Anthony Yates helps linebacker Sean Spence after Spence injured his knee rushing Panthers quarterback Jimmy Clausen in the third quarter Aug. 30, 2012, at Heinz Field.

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Friday, Oct. 11, 2013, 10:45 p.m.

After enduring an injury the severity of the one Sean Spence did, most would hope just for a return to normal life.

But Spence's sights always have been higher — a return to the football field — and he will get that chance next week.

Spence will practice Wednesday for the first time since suffering a left knee injury during last year's final preseason game. Spence tore the anterior cruciate, posterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments and suffered a dislocated knee cap that caused peroneal nerve damage.

After surgery, 14 months of rehab, a spot on injured reserve and a stint on the physically-unable-to-perform list, Spence is ready to see if he still can be a professional football player.

“It feels pretty good working out,” Spence said. “I just want to see now how it reacts when I am going up against an elite athlete like some of the guys we have on the field. I am feeling pretty solid.”

Feeling “solid” is a success story in itself.

Players often recover from multiple torn ligaments and go on to have successful careers. But few, if any, make a full recovery from peroneal nerve damage, said Dr. David Geier, director of sports medicine at Medical University of South Carolina.

Peroneal nerve injuries occur when multiple ligaments are torn and the leg stretches the outside of the knee, compromising the nerve that runs down the leg that controls the upward movement of the foot and toes.

Steelers linebacker coach Keith Butler said in April “it will be miraculous if (Spence) does come back (this year). It will be miraculous if he comes back next year.”

Instead, it took a little more than a year for Spence to get back on the field.

“I don't feel like I am rushing myself back,” Spence said. “I am going to see how I feel when I practice. If everything goes good, I'll go from there and take it one day at a time.”

The Steelers used their third-round pick on Spence last year with the hopes he could be the long-term replacement for James Farrior at inside linebacker.

The injury changed all that for the Steelers — but not for Spence.

“I know I'm going to beat the odds,” Spence said. “The progress that I have made, the doctors say that I've already beat the odds.”

Spence has worked out since spring but been limited to what he can do with the team while on the PUP list.

Spence has been running sprints, hitting the heavy bag and running cone drills at the team's practice facility.

“Just trying to get back used to the contact,” Spence said. “I'll probably start off with individual, you know, ease me into it, and as the weeks go, by depending on how my progress, we will go from there.”

Spence doesn't have much time to prove he's totally back. The Steelers have a three-week span to decide whether to add him to the 53-man roster or place him on the season-ending injured reserve list once they activate him from the PUP list.

With Larry Foote lost for the season, the Steelers will start rookie sixth-round pick Vince Williams but would welcome Spence into the mix.

“I have been in every meeting,” Spence said. “It is like I am preparing for the game but not playing. I know the game plan and know what's going on.”

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib

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